Parks Advances Use of Technology to Improve Green Spaces benches24n-1-web

NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP, today joined Minerva Tantoco, Chief Technology Officer for the City of New York, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Members Vanessa L. Gibson and James Vacca, and Soofa to announce the launch of a new pilot program that will install five solar powered benches in Highbridge Parks —Manhattan and Bronx. Designed by Cambridge-based Soofa, an MIT Media Lab spin-off, the benches provide free, solar-powered charging for mobile devices and also aid NYC Parks in understanding how many people visit Highbridge Park by counting Wi-Fi enabled devices as they pass. The announcement was made during the agency’s PARKS WITHOUT BORDERS summit at The New School, a conference on the future of parks and urban spaces.

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In this pilot, NYC Parks and Soofa are collaborating to use new multi-purpose benches for New Yorkers that improve their day-to-day experience of the park, by providing free mobile charging and additional seating, and to provide Parks with more information on how people are using Highbridge Park.  The information provided by systems like the Soofa benches can help Parks to manage the city’s public spaces more effectively and efficiently.

“These Soofa benches will provide a look forward into the future of parks,” said Commissioner Silver. “We know just how valuable the use of technology is and how important it is in our day-to-day experience – and these benches tap into that power by allowing us to measure park usership and engagement while protecting parkgoers privacy and providing a vital service.”

“A place to sit and recharge? Solar powered? What could be better?” said Ms. Minerva Tantoco, Chief Technology Officer for the City of New York. “Parks are at the heart of every great city. We’re excited about testing out this new tech. Commissioner Silver’s smarter parks initiative can help us envision the future of public spaces.”

“The Smart Bench program is another example of New York City leading the nation with sustainable innovations that contribute to a greener and more livable urban environment, “ said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This initiative will provide two vital amenities in our city parks: solar power and internet access. The Council has been a strong advocate for Wi-Fi in parks, and is committed to providing streamlined, inclusive digital services to diverse communities throughout the City. I applaud the Administration and Soofa for this forward-thinking project.”

“I am excited to welcome these innovative solar powered Smart Benches to my district,” said Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson. “I thank Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver for making the choice to pilot these benches in Highbridge Park and I hope these benches encourage even more people to visit the Bronx’s beautiful parks this summer.”

“Solar-powered smart benches are a fabulous addition to our public technology infrastructure,” said Council Member James Vacca, Chair of the NYC Council Committee on Yechnology. “This pilot program will provide New Yorkers with a convenient way to recharge their electronic devices in our parks.  I look forward to the success of the pilot program and the eventual expansion of the benches throughout our city.”

“We make it possible for every park to be smarter by taking simple, but very impactful actions. NYC Parks is the perfect partner for this first of its kind project because not only is the Agency and City committed to innovation, but they are also focused on using technology to improve the quality of life for people who live in and visit the city. At Soofa we focus on people first, so we are thrilled to have a partner in the City of New York who thinks the same way,” said Sandra Richter, co-founder and CEO, Soofa. “We love parks and technology, and we want to make sure they are combined in a way beneficial to us all.”

The first bench was installed today in the Bronx, next to the entrance to the High Bridge. The other four benches will be installed in Manhattan in the next month.

Parks works to create and sustain thriving parks and public spaces for New Yorkers. NYC Parks is committed to the use of technology to make a better parks system. New York City parks are a vital component of urban life, and new technologies can be used to help design and measure the usage of public space for the benefit of all New Yorkers. This pilot is part of a larger effort by NYC Parks to better understand how public spaces are used, and improve how parks are designed, programmed and maintained through the innovative use of technology. NYC Parks owns all park usage information collected during this pilot. No personal information will be retained by NYC Parks, nor Soofa, during this process.

Today’s summit, PARKS WITHOUT BORDERS: IDEAS FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF URBAN PARKS AND PUBLIC SPACE, brought together the leading minds in parks and public spaces from NYC and across the country. The event featured a keynote address by Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger, and conversations with world-renowned landscape architect Signe Neilson and Commissioner Silver. NYC Parks, during the summit, today will also reveal the eight Parks Without Borders showcase parks selected to receive reconstruction using the new design concept.